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Violence and Abuse

Legal Considerations If You Have Been Raped

Although improvements have been made in the legal system, prosecution of a rapist can still be a drawn out and painful process. Most communities have rape crisis centers that provide advocates as you move through the legal system. In many places there are victim/witness advocates in the offices of local district attorneys who can provide information and support. In some states you can report a rape anonymously or without prosecuting. Whether you report it or not, write down everything that you can remember so that if you do decide to file a criminal complaint later, your statement will be accurate. As you are deciding whether or not to report the crime to the authorities, here are several things to keep in mind:

  • Because the legal system can be intimidating and confusing, it will help tremendously to have a friend or rape crisis counselor with you throughout the process.

  • The state will have to prove that you were sexually assaulted and that the rapist used force or threatened force against you. Rape is considered a crime against the state. It is prosecuted by the district attorney's office. You will be the state's witness, and you will not have your own lawyer unless you can arrange for one to advise you.

  • Do not reveal the following information related to your mental health:

    • That you have been in psychotherapy
    • That you were previously the victim of sexual assault
    • That you keep a journal
    • Information about your sexual history with the perpetrator or anyone else

    What you tell police investigators becomes part of the government's record that they must share with the defense, who will pursue it in an attempt to shift the blame of the attack onto the victim. Just stick to the immediate facts of the attack.

  • A trial can last from six months to several years. You will need to be prepared to continue thinking and talking about the rape for a long time. You may have to give an account of the event over and over, even to people who are paid to make you look like you are not telling the truth, while people judge.

  • You will need to prepare yourself for any outcome. Rape is one of the most difficult crimes to prove. Remember that even if your case does not end in a conviction, this does not mean that the rape did not happen or that you were wrong to prosecute.

Written by: Margaret Lazarus with Renner Wunderlich, Diane Rosenfeld, and Stacey Kabat.
Last revised: March 2005

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